LETTERS FROM DAVAO: Preview of Davao’s political landscape

By Jun Ledesma

Politics creates bonds of friendships, strong ties that decide what course the government pursues. But politics creates the deepest cleavage even among friends that leads to irrational conflicts that damage the government units they govern and divide political constituencies.
This describes the politics in Davao del Norte. For decades, this province, famous for its banana industry and tourists destination, is also known for the peace and quiet during election time. The leading businessmen, Don Antonio Floirendo and Jesus V. “Chito” Ayala nurtured the banana industry that ranks second in the world. They may have belonged to opposing political spectrums but this did not come in the way to achieve development goals of the province.

Both have gone to the great beyond. Don Antonio Floirendo, planted the first Cavendish banana seedling in the swampland he leased from the government decades ago. A mechanical engineer he loves the smell of the earth and soon expanded his banana farm and later ventured in pineapple and pomelo. His farm was the favorite destination of Presidents among them Diosdado Macapagal and Ferdinand Marcos. Exiled and unjustly vilified by the new centurions during the Cory Aquino government, he was however repatriated straight to Davao at the height of a vicious coup attempt on the Cory government with the help of known Cory’s men who believed in his principles and development crusade.

Thus politics in Davao del Norte has always been defined by what is primordial for the province development. This too somehow influenced the conduct of politics in Davao City and for that matter the entire region in Southeastern Mindanao. Floirendo and Ayala skippered not only the economic development of the region but also the discipline of politicians. They were the chief architects of the successful agricultural development of the region by shifting it from the dying logging industry that only benefitted a few who invested the wealth they derived from the forest lands of Davao to mostly in Makati instead. Exception to this would are Alcantara, who belonged to the big league, and Robillo, Dalisay and Gomez who were small scale operators but never left Davao. Alcantara invested in cattle raising and then on aqua-culture in Sarangani. I have seen their processed bangus and tilapia in Texas and Los Angeles groceries.

It is therefore appalling to see Davao del Norte heading to one of the most turbulent and divided political arena as midterm election in May 2019 approaches. What ignited the fuse that led to the internal political combustion in Davao politics was filing of complaints against Rep. Tonyboy Floirendo (2nd Dist.) by his bosom friend Rep. and Speaker Bebot Alvarez before the Ombudsman. While early rumors pointed at their lovers’ quarrel the same is farthest from the truth. The dismantling of quarantine checkpoints in the Floirendo-owned banana plantations would offer a clue but one has to dig deeper why. The ombudsman case had been elevated to the Sandiganbayan and we have to leave it there lest I will be held in contempt.

Banana industry is the backbone of the regional economy and attempts at wrecking the vast banana plantations which employs hundreds of thousands is simply a nightmare for the political and business leaders. At the time when the staff of Alvarez and a retinue of DPWH and police elements stormed the plantation and destroyed the quarantine installations the alert on Fusarium wilt, the most dreaded banana disease, was in code red. This enraged Davao. Add the remarks of then Speaker Alvarez against Mayor Inday Sara’s Hugpong ng Pagbabago and you have a veritable boiling cauldron coming that would later jettison Bebot from the House leadership.

The coming elections in Davao del Norte will no longer be boring as it used to be. The ex-Speaker is no longer dependent on his (ex) friend Tonyboy for many says he has a war-chest that can last up to election day. He is up against Anthony del Rosario, the incumbent governor, who is one of the original pillars of Inday Sara’s HnP. Inday who is running unopposed as city mayor of Davao is expected to cross the thin boundary between the province and city and will be rooting for Anthony. And then there is Tonyboy the ever smiling politician who is now fuming inside.

Alvarez who had been farming out oodles of funds to barangay captains in District 1 is no longer speaker and the political landscape had ben radically altered.

And it is only November.

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